A telephone call this lunchtime reminded me that the weather is un-seasonally warm.  I have been basking in temperatures reaching the high twenties to low thirties and it got me thinking back to the time when we first ‘moved into the house’

Well moving in is probably an over exaggeration, there was a part of the house that had been partly restored some thirty years previously, but never finished and never lived in.  With the enthusiasm of a new life we set about disposing of the rubbish, cleaning, and painting.  It snowed that March and was still bitterly cold, un-seasonally cold!  There was a rudimentary bathroom, I went and bought sanitary-ware from the DIY store and plumbed it in, found an old drain pipe and connected it all up, with no idea of where it all went!  There was a functioning electricity meter in the upper uninhabitable part of the house, so we ran cables down to our new ‘luxury pad’ stringing them round the walls like Christmas lights without the lights, a basic electricity supply, one power point in each room.

For heating and cooking there was an old wood burning stove found in an outhouse, cleaned up and hastily re-erected with a flue pipe leading into a chimney, that was our only means heating and cooking, the kitchen was a salvaged porcelain sink placed on an old dressing table which we cut the legs off.  For hot water, in keeping with our ecological ethos we bought a solar panel and kilometres of alkathene pipe.  We mounted the panel on the middle terrace above the collapsing garden wall and then moved some furniture in.  We had a living room, bedroom, shower-room and alcove with a guest bed, it was home, it was bliss!

The first morning we awoke with the dawn at six thirty am to see from our bed mist in the valley below and blue cloudless skies above, truly breath-taking.  We were happy, managed to entertain friends, cooking on the wood stove and remarking on our lives ‘camping with our own furniture!’, but there was one problem.  It soon became overcast and the solar panel did not work.  It got to the stage of boiling kettles both to wash plates and bodies, it was two weeks without sunshine, in the end we went to the terme San Casciano!

Today all is different, we have planted nearly 1000 plants, the garden is really taking shape, fruit trees showing signs of fruit, hedges screen the various terraces and divide the various spaces, lavender plants in profusion are bursting into new leaf,  Rosemary is in full bloom the purple and violets and blues covering the bankings, the Irises planted three years ago are for the first time in bud, and Harald’s figs are just forming.  The house has six glorious individual apartments, all with lavish bathrooms, underfloor heating, and WiFi,  the dining room created out of the former cow stalls is a large and elegant space, all is earthquake proofed, including the new annexe which has a room specifically for our biomass boiler and large hot water tank (1,500 litres) which today reached 80º only fuelled by the six vacuum sealed solar panels on the roof.  We have new pipes for the mains water, large tanks for the spring water used for the garden and flushing lavatories, and finally a three phase electricity supply, yes Bellaugello has come a long way….

In common with seemingly most of Europe yesterday was a bit wintry and cold, grey and miserable here near Gubbio in Umbria, Italy.  Made all the worse by a day without electricity.

It surprises me just how dependent we all have become on this invisible product.  Here, during the restoration at Bellaugello Gay Guesthouse we spent a great deal of time researching ecological solutions, and installing eco-sustainable systems.  As a result we have installed large rain-water holding tanks, re-connected the long abandoned spring and buried large water holding tanks for the water which we use for flushing lavatories, our washing machines, watering the garden, the cold shower for the Finnish Sauna and the swimming pool.

Our heating plant includes an installation of six vacuum sealed solar panels, which in the summer provide all of our domestic hot water, the surplus planned this summer to be sent to the swimming pool, whilst in the winter the solar panels help augment the temperature of the heating system.  Our main boiler, a big handsome powerful brute runs on pellets and wood which is cut locally.  All the Suites here at Bellaugello Gay Guest House have modern technology underfloor heating sooo cosy on the feet!

Many of the lightbulbs here are low energy (not that I really approve of or like them, or believe they are really ecological) and led lights, our refrigerators are all class A+ or better, however everything relies on electricity.

Here in Italy there are incentives and financing for the installation of photovoltaic panels for the production of electricity, however we have not yet gone down that road, I am not sure of their efficiencies and the financial outlay is extensive, and they look horrid, carbuncles on the roofs of the most beautiful country houses, and hectares of silica fields are not exactly picturesque, so they are currently something I am keen to avoid – my excuse is that I am waiting for the technology to improve.  A quote for photovoltaics for the spring water pump was €4,000.00, would have involved a large ugly aluminium and steel mounting pole and would have provided a perfect target for the local hunters with their rifles, and the pump requires only a few tens of watts!! Panels placed on mountings on the ground are an easy target for thieves, a couple of bolts and – they’re away….

So on tuesday the wind picked up and blew from the north east.  The  winds evidently swung the overhead electric cables which are festooned all over the valley here in Valdichiascio, and the power flashed on an off all day like a tacky Christmas tree.  Yesterday without warning the power went off at 08.15 and remained off all the day.

Ok so the house is ecological and we have solar and biomass heating…… It ALL requires electricity to function.  Everything here has a pump, yes everything, the solar panels, the boiler, the underfloor heating, the patent fireplace in my sitting room, the spring water requires to be pumped up 80 metres and 300 metres in distance, and without electricity nothing works!! No electricity on a sunny summer day and the solar panels reach above boiling point, jettisoning their precious treated fluids, no electricity in the winter means no recirculation of any pump, and no internet.

It can be romantic, yes I lit the fire in my bedroom lit some candles and snuggled down under the duvet, and caught up on some reading, but it was very odd without electricity, and I felt so isolated without the internet, I am an internet junkie, I love my life here in this beautiful corner of Umbria but I also love the contact with the outside world, emails, and skype keep me in touch, and news and comedy programmes keep me amused, and I do so like the odd rant on my blog, but it would be nice with electricity……

Dawn heralded a lovely crisp frosty morning here in Umbria, Italy, and it is on mornings like these that I am so grateful to have installed underfloor heating here at Bellaugello Gay Guest House.  I potter about preparing breakfasts on the cotto flooring with no shoes, not even socks, it is an utter delight, as is knowing that our heating here is provided by a mix of wood, wood pellets, and solar energy, as green as can be achieved.

Out in the annexe our big shiny red and silver “Gilles” wood and pellet boiler is quietly humming away, the fragrant smell of woodsmoke hanging delicately in the air.  It always surprises me for such a powerful beast of a boiler just how quiet it is and how slowly the smoke exits from the copper chimney, as if reluctant to leave the warmth of the boiler!  Above, on the roof the “Kloben” vacuum sealed Solar Panels are already heating up.  Yesterday the snow did not lift at all from the panels, they were covered all day but still somehow they managed in the glorious sunshine to heat up to 27º quite remarkable.

Our initial capital outlay may have been high (to me sometimes seemingly stratospherically high!) but the paybacks are good and it is really is rewarding to be able to heat the house and provide hot water in this sustainable manner.  Next year the wood that will be burnt will come from timber cut on the estate here at Bellaugello, with the solar panels helping augment winter heating, and for eight months of the year providing all our domestic hot water needs, the surplus in the summer being fed to the swimming pool, it is a big step on the way to self-sufficiency whilst providing luxurious state of the art facilities, and yes as I blog my feet are toasty warm…..

Oh I simply adore my job.  This photograph I took early yesterday morning as the sun shone golden on the honey-coloured stone of Bellaugello Gay Guest House, the windows after my own efforts at cleaning them even sparkling.  It is so wonderful to have the house complete and to be enjoying the company of many varied and utterly interesting guests.  I have been so lucky this year to have had a wonderful clientelle from many different countries.  Not only do I live in a beautiful tranquil scenic place here near Gubbio in Umbria, central Italy but I have fabulous guests to share my home and its tranquil setting.

Ok there are early starts, but I get to see wonderful sunrises, then, baking, cooking, cleaning and garden maintenance, there is always something that needs my attention, and late evenings when I turn to bed shattered, but there is also time to stop and chat with guests which makes it all well worthwhile.

Today I sit in my porch commanding a panoramic view over the Chiascio valley to Monte Subasio and beyond, Milo Edo and Jenny lying quietly at my side, outside a piercing blue sky is punctuated by fluffy clouds scudding across on the high altitude wind.  Level with me but some distance off hovers a bird of prey, working high abovethe hillside below, the trees are beginning to turn and lose their leaves (another job on its way!) there is a touch of autumn in the air but the sun is still warm.

I should be catching up on paperwork, one of my least favourite tasks, well I have done two hours of paperwork, so feel pleased, poured myself a cup of my precious Marks and Spencer’s Early Grey tea, munched on a slice of apple cake I made last night from apples gathered from the trees on the side of the big field, wandered over to the anexxe and climbed onto the roof to admire the new solar panels, how silly am I, and decided to post on my blog, just because I feel at peace with the world.  Here is the pic of the solar panels and the roof of Bellaugello Gay Guest House

Yesterday was another glorious day here at Bellaugello Gay Guest House near Gubbio in Umbria, Italy, a day for lying by the pool and working on an all-over tan.

The sun shone in a blue sky studded with fluffy cumulus clouds which scurried on the gentle breeze.

What surprised me was that the newly installed Solar Panels which sit on the roof of the agricultural store reached 147 degrees c !!!  They heat all the hot water for the house at Bellaugello Gay B&B and next year will pour surplus energy into the swimming pool – thus extending the open season for the swimming pool.

I have installed six vacuum sealed solar panels manufactured by Kloben and they feed into a 1500 litre hot water tank, thus there is sufficient hot water for every guest to be showering at the same time and me still to be washing plates in the kitchen – or showering too!

In line with my eco-awareness the solar panels also feed into the house heating system, all of which is floor heating by hot water, and my plumber assures me that the panels will be sufficient to heat my house and two suites unaided…. I will let you know, however what is certain is that they will augment the heating by our wood and pellet boiler for all the guest house throughout the winter.

Thinking of intense heat led me to think about the SAUNA which is now in the advanced stage of planning.  Finally I have found a wood burning sauna stove in Germany which meets EU regulations and can be shipped to Bellaugello.  We are hoping to start work on the sauna decking and construction of the wooden house that will house the sauna the first week in October to have the sauna operational by the beginning of November.

We are planning to offer weekend sauna packages.  With flights on Ryanair from London Stanstead on Friday, Sunday and Monday and easy access from Rome and Florence, we will be offering two nights sauna package, accommodation, dinners and sauna from Friday evenings, check our special offers for details